Space travel is an issue that will likely come in few states besides Florida this primary season, but both Mitt Romney and Newt Gingrich were quick to recognize the importance of the Space Coast is to this state and agreed that the issue is important for the country.
"It should certainly be a priority," said Romney when asked whether, during a time of reduced federal spending, space exploration should be a focus.
"What we have now is a president who does not have a vision or a mission for NASA. As a result of that, there are people on the space coast that are suffering. Florida itself is suffering as a result," he said.
Gingrich added that he would like to go back to the moon "permanently" and get to Mars "as rapidly as possible, building a series of space stations and developing commercial space."
Romney and Gingrich both said that space exploration should be a collaborative effort between the federal government and the private sector.
"From NASA, from the Air Force space program, from our leading universities and from commercial enterprises -- bring them together, discuss a wide range of options for NASA and then have NASA not just funded by the federal government but by commercial enterprises," Romney added. "Have research done in our universities. Let's have a collaborative effort with business, with government, with military and with our educational institutions. Have a mission."
Gingrich was then asked whether he would "put more tax dollars into the space race and commit to putting an American on mars instead of relying on the private sector."
"Well, the two are not incompatible," he replied. "For example, most of the great breakthroughs in aviation were as a result of prizes. [Charles] Lindbergh flew to Paris for a $25,000 prize. I would like to see vastly more of the money spent encouraging the private sector into a very aggressive experimentation. I would like a leaner NASA. I don't think building a bigger bureaucracy and having a greater number of people sit in rooms and talk gets you there. But if we had a series of goals that we were prepared to offer prizes for, there is every reason to believe you have folks in this country and around the world who would put up an amazing amount of money and would make the space coast literally hum with activity because they'd be drawn to achieve prizes."